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Chase Kimball: What it means to me to be a good man

< I began soliciting essays from male students at Carleton, asking them to respond to the question, “What does it mean to you to be a good man?” The idea was to engage men in thoughtful reflections about manhood, and to promote an important and interesting dialogue by making the essays public to the entire Carleton community. This essay is the first in a series—look in this section of the Carletonian for a new essay each week, written by a different man, responding to the same question.

There are many reasons why masculinity is an important topic to discuss:

• Gender is a central feature of a person’s identity, and long after I cease to identify as a student I will continue to identify as a man.

• It is possible that in the absence of critical dialogue on the subject, men can develop warped and inappropriate understandings of manhood, which in turn can lead to (among other things) sexual violence and domestic abuse.

• Though our liberal arts education prepares us in many ways to become contributing members of society, for many of us our greatest contribution will come through our future roles as husbands and fathers—roles we spend too little time discussing relative to their importance.

The purpose of this dialogue is exploratory, not exclusionary. By answering the question “What does it mean to you to be a good man?” men are encouraged to identify the qualities of goodness that matter most to them, not to label other forms of manhood as bad, nor to define what womanhood is not. This is a constructive project in identity exploration, where authors are invited to contemplate their selves and their place in society.

In the coming weeks you will read a variety of thoughtful pieces, each exploring different aspects of masculinity. Here are some excerpts from forthcoming essays to whet your appetite:

“When I think of a real man, I think of my Father. Since I was nine years old, my father stayed at home and took care of the household duties after being laid off. He was a pillar, and a true leader in our home, but he did so with humility and quiet strength. His capacity for kindness seemed limitless. We didn’t always agree, but we always loved each other, and this bond meant more to me than I may understand in this life.”

“Maybe manhood begins when we start to understand the complications of being autonomous human beings—learning to leave behind your counselors and parents and teachers and face our actions and ensure that they are worthy of being claimed. Becoming a man isn’t getting it all figured out, it’s accepting the responsibility to keep trying to figure it out yourself.”

“In an era where women are making significant headway in professional, artistic, and academic achievement, we are tempted to resign ourselves to the idea that the differences between men and women are no longer important. Unfortunately, at the critical juncture between boyhood and manhood that characterizes so much of our college years, rarely do we interrogate what exactly manhood means.”

“To me being a good man encompasses being a good provider. But note: attributes of manhood are not always mutually exclusive with womanhood. For example, ‘leader, provider, care-giver, and nurturer’ are all qualities of the good man I hope to be, but this is not to imply that leading and providing are any less inherent to female identity, nor that care-giving and nurturing are any less inherent to my identity as a man (though these terms have historically been coded this way).”

“Is it always about sex with guys? Quite often, yes, but we aren’t a bunch of physically minded Neanderthals.”

“A good man understands the significance of placing family first. No success outside the home can compensate for failure in the home. The mark of a good man can be seen by the joy which he brings to his family.”

“What if a good man was one who was able to include other men? What if, rather than subscribing to traditional definitions of manhood—definitions that are important and meaningful to many men—he could recognize that there are other men who find other things meaningful, and that those differences don’t make them less good as men.”

I hope this introductory essay has sparked your interest and that you will continue to read this series. I think it is one of the most important, most interesting, and least discussed topics among people our age. If you would like to have your own reflections published, please consider responding to the question “What does it mean to you to be a good man?”in an essay of 400-800 words and e-mailing it to [email protected].

-Chase Kimball is a fourth-year student.

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